In a dramatic extension of information technology for the scholar, a selection of the state papers released at the beginning of this year under the 30-year rule has been published on CD-Rom.
This first batch of what promises to be an annual release, following the new year releases at the Public Record Office, comprises 120,000 pages of documents from 1964.
The publication is a joint project of HM Stationery Office, the Public Record Office and the Institute of Contemporary British History. Sarah Tyacke, keeper of the records said: "Our concerns from the start were to promote open government, going a stage beyond mere release of government papers on a single site at Kew. It also helps with the preservation of original sources by making alternatives more widely available, rather than continual consultation and copying of the originals."
The first set of documents lifts the veil on the closing days of Alec Douglas-Home's government and the first three months of Harold Wilson's. It includes correspondence and papers from the prime minister's office, and Cabinet minutes and memoranda. The second set covers foreign policy and includes files on such flashpoints as Vietnam, Malaysia and Aden. The third set covers minutes and memoranda of cabinet and chiefs of defence staff committees and reports of the joint planning staff.
Peter Hennessy, professor of contemporary history at Queen Mary and Westfield College, London University, said: "Rather than having to make do with up to three files at a time, you can now browse at leisure through the Cabinet papers. You will be able to call up innumerable files at the touch of a button and print out copies."
Tony Benn, who was Minister of Science and Technology at the time, hailed the venture as "one of the most formidable pieces of publishing in my lifetime. The amazing thing is that you have to wait 30 years to get at it."